5th October 2010, 11:53
Wales v Italy match preview
Gareth Thomas is looking forward to his Wales Rugby League debut
Gareth Thomas is looking forward to his Wales Rugby League debut against Italy at The Racecourse Ground on Wednesday night (kick-off 7.30pm).
Thomas won 100 caps in the 15-man code and is now looking forward to Wales Rugby League's most important international campaign in ten years.
Following the Italian game, Wales take part in the Alitalia European Cup with away matches against Scotland (this Sunday October 10th) and France (October 24th) and a home game against Ireland at The Gnoll in Neath (October 17th).
The winners of that four team group go through to the 2011 Four Nations tournament to take on England, Australia and New Zealand.
"It's good to finally get the go-ahead for the game tomorrow," Thomas said. "I'm looking forward to getting back on the field after a few months being injured and I'm especially looking forward to representing my country again.
"Wednesday will be good, the real business starts on Sunday in Scotland in our first European Cup game but for a lot of reasons, the Italy game is very important to me as I need the run out after a few months off.
"We're in the European Cup to win it. The carrot at the end of it, to play in next year's Four Nations against England, Australia and New Zealand is massive. They're the real big guns and the opportunity is something we don't want to miss. We want to play against the best. It's all about building Rugby League in Wales and the building its profile. If we don't win this then it'll be an unsuccessful campaign, that's why the Italy game is so important for us, so we can prepare for the games ahead."
Wales coach Iestyn Harris, who has worked with both players at Crusaders this season, is also looking forward to the game and to see Thomas pull on a Wales Rugby League shirt.
"I'm looking for the guys to get a hit-out ahead of the European Cup opener against Scotland in Glasgow on Sunday," Harris said. "I'm looking for a good solid performance from them. It's difficult leading into the first game when your timing's a little bit off and you've had a bit of break at the end of the season.
"Gareth's played 100 games for Wales in rugby union so to get the opportunity to play for Wales in Rugby League is something that excites him and something he has a lot of passion and pride about. I'm excited about seeing him play.
"He has made real steady progress in his Rugby League career. He came to Rugby League about five or six games into the Crusaders season and was getting really accomplished in the game before picking up a groin injury. He missed the back-end of the year so he needs the game-time under his belt, as do some of the others like Ben Flower and Gil Dudson."
Thomas will come up against one of his Crusaders team-mates in Rocky Trimarchi on Wednesday night when the Italian international puts on the Azzurri shirt for the first time for six years.
"The last time I played was in 2004," said Trimarchi. "I've been playing in the NRL since then and it's very hard for them to let their players go over to Europe. It's great to come back over here and take on the Welsh at the ground that I've played at all season.
"I'm really looking forward to the game. It's a big step for us. We've a lot of Italian-Australian players in the side and a lot of Italian born players too. I hope this will help more Italians and NRL-based Italians to play for us next year in the World Cup qualifiers.
"I think my navigation may be off tomorrow night. It'll be strange going into the away side's dressing room, but these are the things you have to do.
"There'll be a lot of Crusaders fans watching the game. They've been giving me good support this season so hopefully I won't get too much stick as I'm not wearing a red shirt. If they do, it'll all be in good fun I'm sure."
Italy coach Carlo Napolitano said: "It'll be a really good spectacle to see the boys play against a strong Welsh team. We're looking forward to it.
"We have Italians playing not only in their home country but in England, Wales, Australia and France so we have a very wide base of players to choose from. We've had quite a few bonding sessions for the players because they all come from different cultures. When we do training sessions, it's in three languages as some of our players don't speak Italian and some don't speak English and then we have players from France.
"We have a great feeling in the squad and the most important thing is that we enjoy the game against Wales and build on it for the future. I expect a good tussle, especially in the first 10 or 15 minutes when passions will be high."
Tickets for Wales v Italy at The Racecourse Ground in Wrexham on Wednesday 6th October priced from £10 for adults and £5 concessions at can be bought by going to www.walesrugbyleague.co.uk, by calling the Crusaders' ticket office on 0871 221 5911 or by calling into the club shop at The Racecourse.